It is typical for American Meat Science Association’s annual Reciprocal Meat Conference to cater to large audiences with a wide variety of interests. Its 72nd year was no different. An underlying theme to all the keynote addresses and sessions, however, was the attention on the consumer. “Consumer” is not a unique term as it is something every person is every day. Still, in this industry, it is this group that is being focused on more and more. No matter the session attended, it likely could be agreed on by a majority of the audience that this year’s focus on the consumer and the power of communication tools to reach them was subtle but difficult to forget. 

The AMSA 72nd RMC began June 24 with Dr. A.K. Pradeep, founder and chief executive officer of MachineVantage. With his focus in Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence (AI), attendees listened to his introduction wondering how in the world he planned to relate it back to meat science. The message, however, was very clear: What is the meat industry going to do to set itself apart? What is the meat industry going to do to reach its consumers? In a world in which consumers want transparency and clear communication, they’re getting it from the wrong side. Consumers want specialization. In a world in which they care about what goes into their food, how it is grown and raised and the health benefits they receive, what will we tell them? They can look straight on the package for the information they want, but if the meat industry does not have exactly what they are looking for, they will find it somewhere else. Dr. Pradeep explained how AI technology could help companies market products by using the example of ice cream and a consumer’s connection with it to breakfast. With technology like this, and others such as eye tracking and MRI imaging mentioned throughout the week, producers can give the consumer more of what they want when the right price isn’t enough anymore. 

Pradeep went further into the discussion by describing a scenario in which the same ice cream company discovered competition with a new company who set themselves apart by providing more than just a good price. This rival company came out of nowhere but was successful because it provided the calories per pint as part of its logo. It was a number the consumer could see right away and added to the value the consumer saw in the product. This concept is what Pradeep described as the “category busting metric,” meaning consumers look for a number to associate with a product, whether that’s calories per serving, grams of protein, etc. The message here is what could be applied to the rest of the conference: “What is that number (or category) that will disrupt your focus group”? Not only was this a great way to start the conference from a scientific standpoint, but also a nice segue into the rest of the week. 

In the long run, this industry works solely for the consumer, and the consumer makes the decisions. Every step of processing today works to put the consumer first. Automation and technology are improving to provide full traceability and transparency in beef production, providing the consumers with the peace of mind they need when buying meat products. Agencies involved in meat exports and imports are considering the way tariffs will affect U.S. and global trade and prices for their consumers. Producers even go so far as to consider how raising larger animals will affect the quality of the product later down the production line because they know that if the quality is lacking, it will not be desired. The safest and best meat in the world comes from the U.S., but that does not mean a happy customer comes easily. No matter what the role is in the U.S. or global meat industry, industry players will need to continue and improve their focus on reaching the consumer with quality information while also making the consumer happy. It is a tricky road, but if they do not do it now, someone else will. 

Pradeep also said, “Every industry is under attack — no exceptions.” If that’s the case, consumers need to be provided more reasons to make their meat selections. With all the technologies and instant outreach available today, the world is at our fingertips. The industry knows what consumers want. Now it is time for the next step. Take these tools, notes and memories of the AMSA 2019 72nd RMC and think about how the meat industry can set itself apart, how it can turn good communication into great communication and keep the people wanting more. NP